Characterisation of personal exposure to environmental radiofrequency electromagnetic fields in Albacete (Spain) and assessment of risk perception

Environ Res. 2019 May;172:109-116. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2019.02.015. Epub 2019 Feb 12.


In the last decades, exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) has substantially increased as new wireless technologies have been introduced. Society has become more concerned about the possible effects of RF-EMF on human health in parallel to the increase in their exposure. The appearance of personal exposimeters opens up wide-ranging research possibilities. Despite studies having characterised personal exposure to RF-EMF, part of the population is still worried, to the extent that psychogenic diseases ("nocebo" effect) appear, and patients suffer. It could be interesting to share personal exposure results with the population to better understand and promote public health. The main objective was to characterise personal exposure to environmental RF-EMF in Albacete (166,000 inhabitants, SE Spain), and assess the effect of sharing the results of the study on participants' risk perception. Measurements were taken by a personal Satimo EME SPY 140 exposimeter, which was programmed every 10 s for 24 h. To measure personal exposure to RF-EMF, we worked with 75 volunteers. Their personal exposure, 14 microenvironments in the city, e.g., home, outdoors, work, etc., and possible time differences were analysed. After participating in the study, 35 participants completed a questionnaire about their RF-EMF risk perception, which was also answered by a control sample to compare the results (N = 36). The total average exposure of 14 bands was 37.7 μW/m2, and individual ranges fell between 0.2 μW/m2, recorded in TV4&5, and a maximum of 264.7 μW/m2 in DECT. For Friday, we recorded a mean of 53.9 μW/m2 as opposed to 23.4 μW/m2 obtained on Saturday. The recorded night-time value was 27.5 μW/m2 versus 43.8 μW/m2 recorded in the daytime. The mean personal exposure value also showed differences between weekdays and weekend days, with 39.7 μW/m2 and 26.9 μW/m2, respectively. The main source that contributed to the mean total personal exposure was enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT) with 50.2%, followed by mobile phones with 18.4% and mobile stations with 11.0% (GSM, DCS and UMTS), while WiFi signals gave 12.5%. In the analysed microenvironments, the mean exposure of homes and workplaces was 34.3 μW/m2 and 55.2 μW/m2, respectively. Outdoors, the mean value was 34.2 μW/m2 and the main sources were DECT, WiFi and mobile phone stations, depending on the place. The risk perception analysis found that 54% of the participants perceived that RF-EMF were less dangerous than before participating in the study, while 43% reported no change in their perceptions. Only 9% of the volunteers who received information about their measurements after the study assessed the possible RF-EMF risk with a value over or equal to 4 (on a scale from 1 to 5) versus 39% of the non-participant controls. We conclude that personal exposure to RF-EMF fell well below the limits recommended by ICNIRP and showed wide temporal and spatial variability. The main exposure sources were DECT, followed by mobile phones and WiFi. Sharing exposure results with participants lowered their risk perception.

Keywords: Exposimeter; Personal exposure; Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF); Risk perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Phone
  • Electromagnetic Fields*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Humans
  • Perception*
  • Radiation Exposure* / analysis
  • Radio Waves
  • Risk-Taking
  • Spain
  • Surveys and Questionnaires